Los Angeles County Bicycle Summit 2011

Program and Presentations Here!

The ‘first annual’ LA Bicycle Summit as it was sometimes referred to at the LA County Bicycle Summit held on Friday, September 30, 2011 in Long Beach, CA was an exhilarating event from start to finish – that is, if one had the opportunity to be there all day. Disclosure: the author was only able to attend until lunchtime due to existing commitments.

Opening the day were folks like Jennifer Klausner of the LA County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC, Executive Director); Bob Foster (Mayor, LBC); Suzanne Bogert (RENEW LA County, Director); and Andy Clarke (League of American Bicyclists, President). Notable was the sense of optimism and exuberance – and not of the irrational variety opined by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan during the heyday of the 00’s and the stock and housing market’s wild upward swings. Rather, of the grounded variety of exuberance that recognizes that the data is in: whether in economics, health and health care, fuel and urban transport efficiency and infrastructure cost savings, or the safety associated with bicycling; bicycling is a sustainable and meaningful constituent part of the transportation infrastructure, especially in a place such as Los Angeles with flat terrain and excellent year-around weather.

One of the big announcements before the official program started inside of the LBC Convention Center: Andy Clarke announced that in September 2012 LBC would be hosting the annual Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012 event on September 12-13, 2012 (Mark Plotz, bike-walk). This is an important opportunity for Southern California and dovetails with much of the current momentum.

Once inside, the opening panel featured the inspiring speakers Andy Clarke (President) of the League of American Bicyclists, James F. Sallis, director of the San Diego State University’s Active Living Research Program, and Dr. Suja Lowenthal, Vice Mayor of LBC.

Andy Clarke discussed the trends that seem to suggest a significant increase in obesity in the US that matches the Dutch experience: increased car use is directly proportional to increased obesity and diabetes, and inversely proportional to cycling. What is more, 40% of trips are two miles or less, suggesting that 40% of car trips could be reduced or eliminated entirely by using the bicycle. Dr. Sallis took this health-related focus further by reiterating the studies by John Pucher of Rutgers University who concludes that most people enjoy bicycling IF they are not scared of traffic. He also spoke of New York City’s 262% cycling increase over the past decade, and the research by Anne C. Lusk who studied bicyclists by connecting a GPS device to their commutes. Her research helped identify the need for segregated bicycle lanes based on female rider preferences to be completely separated or segregated from car traffic.

Finally, in the first session, Dr. Suja Lowenthal, vice mayor of LBC gave an excellent presentation on what all LBC has done to get to where they are – mentioning the mayor and folks like Charlie Gandy who was in the next panel session. Lowenthal, a USC graduate, discussed the need for an authentic engagement of bicycling and the importance of making it accesible to all cyclists, including ones who sought shorter trips and who sometimes might wish to wear business attire or other fashions – not only the spandex gear preferred by many long-distance, speed cyclists. She likened cycling to the book The Earth Knows My Name by Patricia Kleindienst (2007) which focuses on the history of gardening and the role of ethnic groups; botany, and the idea that the earth knows you in a profound sense.

Lowenthal connected this to her homeland India, as well as the use of bicycling, adding a global dimension to what clearly is a global phenomena with LA as its champion and manifesting in the Summit’s apparent magic, a desirable harbinger of the local-global connection that is bicycling and transportation. Lowenthal therefore asks the question: “Who’s streets are these?” and answers that the bicycle is the great equalizer and a metaphor for our changing urbanscape. The author notes that this does appear to be the case in much of LA as youth embraces a DIY (do-it-yourself) culture around the identity and pride-of-ownership of the bicycle – a tool that moves you with honor and dignity. So yes – an equalizer.

The next session was equally exciting and was moderated by Jean Armbruster, director of the Los Angeles PLACE Program. Jean Armbruster began with some inspiring words and data that point to the economics of the bicycle’s important impact and laid out some of the basic data that demonstrates the connection between health, health costs, and exercise such as through bicycling, notably the studies by Finkelstein 2007 that obesity represents 10% of medical spending. Following was Charlie Gandy of LBC who gave a no-nonsense ribald discussion of why and how LBC made happen their successful conversion to bicycling in such a short time frame; and Daryl Grigsby (Public Works Director) of the City of Pomona who actually rode from Pomona on the bicycle path connecting the two locations discussed his first 19 months from Seattle, WA as Pomona’s more or less bicycle transportation catalyst with some great examples of what it takes – community engagement, rides, buy in, promotion, walking the talk – etc. Finally, Laura Friedman of the City of Glendale gave an inspiring, down-to-earth, very humorous presentation about how her city is changing as a result of concerns regarding the safety or lack of safety associated with cars and the impact on pedestrians. Combined, these speakers hit all of the major points when it comes to bicycling – from what the data tells us to how to feasibly integrate bicycling into the public agenda and dialog. They made it look a lot easier than probably really is.

Throughout the day there were heros of the new cycling revolution everywhere: Dan Dabek director of C.I.C.L.E.; representatives from CicLAvia (Joe Linton, Jonathan Parfrey, Bobby Gadda); Lynn Goldsmith of LA Metro; Jessica Meaney of Safe Routes to School National Partnership; and Lucy Dyke of Santa Monica to name but a few. Indeed, the program will hopefully be available soon and will be posted here.

One of the more compelling sessions that the author was unable to attend was titled “Using Collision Data; New Mapping Tools for Supporting Infrastructure Investments” led by Swati Pande and John Bigham of UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center. SafeTREC and Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS) appear to be excellent research resources and the author is examining these more closely in the context of efforts at the Annenberg Innovation Lab to create storytelling, geolocative, and data collection systems relating to bicycling as a form of transport and as a communication medium.

The event – although only attended in the morning – was a monumental historic experience that represents the culmination of many years in the making. It does appear that a major shift is happening in Los Angeles that may change everything. If Portland and Minneapolis can do it – why can’t LA? There is no reason why it can’t – that’s the answer.

An example of the heroes of LA who are transforming the urbanscape – Charlie Gandy of Long Beach discussing ‘charismatic communities’ at TEDx – soon to be featured on TED:

Los Angeles as Harbinger

It is barely October 2011, and the time frame Aug-Sept 2011 has swept Los Angeles with seismic shifts in the critical mass and dare one say “convergence” of interests surrounding alternative transportation – especially bicycling. From the GOOD LA opening art exhibit on “moving beyond cars in LA” to the continued improvements on bike paths such as the 7th Street dedicated bicycle lane and the Exposition Line bike lane, to the ThinkBike LA event to the apogee of the first LA Bike Summit held appropriately in Long Beach, CA or LBC.

It is also during this time frame that the author has been able to connect with critical persons at USC – a pivotal institution located in South LA and that is connecting to downtown via the newly completed, soon-to-be-operational Exposition Line (light rail) and the so-called “Figueroa Corridor” that connects to the Staples-Nokia Centers (South Park). Academically there is also a sea change at USC led largely by such faculty as François Bar of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Deike Peters of the School of Public Policy and Planning (SPPD) who will be teaching a bicycle planning course in the Spring 2012 semester and who is changing the orientation of the METRANS Transportation Center with new energy and initiatives relating to bicycling. As part of François Bar’s “Mobile Communication: Learning by Hacking” course, some brilliant students and I are experimenting with an SMS-based story-telling mobile platform, enabling regular cell phone users to upload images and simple text stories including location maps via their non-smartphone, plain-old-cellphone.

There is a fundamental change in Los Angeles that reverberates throughout the many communities and bicycling cultures that permeate the land. It is at the city where Mayor Villaraigosa and key persons at City Hall are transforming the urbanscape with new measures such as SB 190 the “three-feet to pass” bike law and the strictest anti-bicyclist harassment liability law in the country passed in July, sponsored by Bill Rosendahl of the LA City Council , to the efforts by those like Jaime de la Vega who leads the LA Transportation Department and who supported and joined the ThinkBike LA events.

For this writer, the changes parallel the changes in the USC-to-the-Pacific-Ocean corridor via Exposition-Jefferson-Ballone-Creek. Since 2004 I rode from Santa Monica to USC with the apprehension that all riders had at that time – and probably still do as newbies to such a commute. I would ride the path along the ocean from Santa Monica, south to Marin del Rey, and then up the Ballone Creek to Jefferson and La Cienega. With ‘laser eyes’ I would be constantly scanning for any moving objects – cars especially – that were not supposed to be moving, and trying to anticipate a door opening. Since around March 2011 – oddly the same time that I moved to within walking distance of my employer USC – there is now a bicycle lane connecting Exposition Blvd to Jefferson and then on to the bike path along Ballone Creek to the ocean. Over eight years of intense morning rides at approximately one hour and ten minutes – often wondering if it was worth it. Now a kind path that I ride almost daily to places like Baldwin Hills or the ocean. A gentle reminder of what once was a rather intense challenge, to what is now a wonderful, dare I say even family-oriented pathway. It will be especially interesting once the parallel Exposition Line (light rail line) is operational – scheduled for early 2012.

The culmination of these past months and a microcosm for what is to come with bicycling across the world, is the Bicycle Summit held in Long Beach, CA (LBC) on September 30, 2011. The Summit was truly a Summit and covered the major issues surrounding bicycling: safety, infrastructure, health, economics, style and fashion, community, politics, planning, data and metrics, and so much more. It was an incredible day that folks like Jean Armbruster (Director, PLACE Program) called an “historic day” and that we were actually acting as a county – because we all had a compelling need to address the role of the bicycle.

Revolution Round Up

Having returned from a fabulous summer 2011 in Vienna and Upper Austria, with excursions to London and Prague, it is clear that the bicycle revolution is a global phenomena that has all of the hallmarks of a sustainable paradigm shift. Unlike 16 years ago when I last was in Europe and as someone who practically grew up in Austria, it is clear that there is an exponential growth in bicycling happening there. Whether in urban areas like London or Vienna, or in rural areas where families enjoy bicycling as an integral part of their vacation and free time, Europe’s broader embrace of cycling is a harbinger.

And across the globe, in Shanghai, the fixie bicycle culture is booming as the Peoples Bike (PB) makes its mark and the first fixie magazine for China 48X15 was released on August 19, 2011 by PB’s Tyler Bowa straight out of the alleys and bikeways and streets of Shanghai. Meanwhile Hong Kong continues to forge ahead with alley cat races sweeping cities worldwide. This gritty messenger, urban culture emerging across the globe – from New York, to LA to Tokyo, Shanghai, Berlin, London and lots more places is an unstoppable juggernaut of human spirit combined with practical technology that transcends our current comprehension of what is really possible.

It is no wonder then that Twitter is alive with chatter about cycling for fun (#bike, #cycling), and as a serious form of transportation (#transport). And it is no wonder that LinkedIn is seeing a renaissance in cycling-related discussion groups including Bike Commuters and Bicycle to Work!. One of the gems to come out of Twitter- James D. Schwartz writing for The Urban Country suggests that “motorists are socialists” given our generally-accepted definitions of socialism.

As an economic phenomena, the author makes the point, automobile drivers enjoy massive state subsidies for roads, health care, fuel, and pollution (lack of proper expensing). This has resulted in many problems, including a lack of innovation for alternative transport modes – something we will be discussing more on this site. The economic problem of the automobile and the negative impact on innovation is one that we should seek to define as a hacker-style opportunity, one that upends current, distorted transportation subsidies and cost allocations in favor of a variable cost model – or pay as you go. Scientific measures relating to this question will favor variable cost models if we are committed to measures of efficiency and market-based outcomes.

A gem to emerge from the LinkedIn discussions was the issue of bicycle “safety” and the use of helmets – and how complex and meaningful this question really is. This TED video suggested by Patrick Walker features Mikael Colville-Andersen and provides a strong set of bicycle safety related ideas based on facts for us all to ponder when it comes to this question of bicycle helmets.

Next post we will turn attention to my home base of Los Angeles to learn about this spoke in the revolutionary wheel that is rolling across the world. No stopping it – and that’s a sure thing!

It all comes down to the word “go”

Move yourself. Move others. Move across time and space. Überfahr investigates the people, technologies, innovations, laws, trends, solutions and systems that help move our urban centers to a post-automobile reality.

The bicycle and cycling culture are the current ingredients that flavor Überfahr. This will change as innovation catches up to the massive and massively subsidized automobile industry and all of its impact. From the violence that permeates our streets and daily lives, to the choking fumes and poisonous gases that envelop our planet; the automobile is a deadly and expensive form of transportation that corrodes our daily life with crushing cash layouts, noise, congestion, and general violence.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving” – albert einstein

From our primordial selves and our competitive advantage as diurnal long-distance runners able to hunt and avoid being hunted by nocturnal predators, to our ability to harness local energy from our existing very local source – our bodies; we are whole. Brain and body.

As is our brain to our tools, so might be our body to our energy sources and resources. And so might the body and the brain continue to intertwine in perpetual motion. But not as factory workers in some interior caverns of degradation or as office slugs, no less interior or bodily degrading. Rather, as upright, moving, environmentally connected natural and proud human selves.

There is a fundamental shift before us. We seem mostly unaware that America’s earliest paved roads, shortly after the Civil War, were created for bicycle transportation and that this pre-dated the automobile. Even as late as 1997, the bicycle moved more people and things on this planet earth than any other transportation type. This timeline also parallels the rise of the bicycle in the 1850s-1890s and the rise of the automobile, not much later, in the 1900s.

These are all clues to where we will be going, without a doubt. We will soon see incredible technological innovations of human-powered and human-assisted transport technologies that are more convenient much more economical and practical. This will then demand a recalibration of our current, near 100% allocation of roads and highways to motorized vehicles, in contrast to non-motorized/human-powered/assisted transport units.

Early data on the scant research being done on the role of the bicycle indicates that when bicycles are a critical part of the transportation infrastructure, positive phenomena results: more jobs are created than building highways or roads; accident rates drop amongst all transportation and moving types – automobile accidents, bike accidents, pedestrian accidents, related; and there is reason to believe that people who enjoy daily bicycle exercise are healthier than people who do not exercise.

The video below is part of the story. We intend to follow this entire story – for the ride.

“The bicycle is such a success because it makes people’s lives easier.

The Bicycle City. Trailer from Greg Sucharew on Vimeo.